I want to make dioramas with a twist
October 16, 2020 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to create little diorama-like scenes to play with my cool new mirrorless camera. The twist? I'd like to have little moving things in there to make it more fun for video. Any small, whimsical objects that you can recommend, especially ones that move around on their own?

I've always been a fan of dioramas. The weirder/creepier/more whimsical, the better. I'm aware that thrift stores are generally a fantastic and cheap place to find things like this, but I thought I'd check the hive mind as well.

I suspect the dioramas will be set up w/ three side walls and an open front, a la school projects. Maybe...bigger than a breadbox? Bigger than a shoebox? Probably some of all. If there's something bigger, like say Teddy Ruxpin-sized (showing my age, eh?), I could probably swing something like that.

So what's the coolest/weirdest little moving thing you've seen? Something that would look absolutely insane in a close-up video moving around in its own little weirdo environment? I'm thinking old wind-up toys, and...whatever the modern equivalent of those would be. (I don't have kids, so please assume I have zero knowledge of any toys from the last 30 years.)

I'm pretty handy, so I'm open to cool Arduino-like things, but at the moment, I'd really prefer ideas that entail just...turning the thing on and letting it bounce off the walls.

Happily open to suggestions for non-moving things as well, but that part seems a lot easier. I'm not looking to spend big bucks, but would shell out a few bucks for something unique.

Secondary question: if this idea reminds you of anything you've seen, I'd love to watch it! Link it up!
posted by nosila to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tiny strandbeest with a sail and a fan to make it go.

Wind-driven objects generally - from a mobile of fluttering leaves to more complex stuff.

Mobiles generally.

Reflective objects, reflective thread, play with light and darkness.

A diorama with water, and different things floating or moving around in the water -- food coloring, little paper boats, bits of stuff that slowly sinks as it saturates. Underwater weights made neutrally buoyant by tying them to tiny balloons.
posted by cnidaria at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You'd be doing yourself a favor to watch anything by The Brothers Quay.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hexbugs! Or these delightful skittery things from Kikkerland.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:02 PM on October 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If the floor of the diorama and table are thin enough, get a big Neodymium magnet and some small ones. Superglue the small ones to the bottom of anything and you can make it move with the magnet under the table.

I'd sorta suggest you pick a scale like 1/12 or 1/24 or 1/48 (US) used in model making or train sets or dollhouses etc. just so you can find things that fit together.

The tested.com YouTube channel has quite a few videos on lighting and shooting miniatures (not moving) that might help with lighting and atmosphere and such.

Sounds like fun.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:03 PM on October 16, 2020

Best answer: Little spinning tops can wander around on their own too. If you've got $60 to throw at this, you can get an Inception-style spinning top, which spins for hours! (If it turns out we're in a dream, please do let us know; I think we'd all be relieved to hear it.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:16 PM on October 16, 2020

Best answer: Seconding Hexbugs, if you really mean "bounce off the walls"! Here is a video of some Hexbug nanos bouncing around. Target sometimes has them in their seasonal section toys with tiny antlers for Christmas or bunny ears for Easter.

Hexbugs were preceded by Bristlebots, which are a popular do-it-yourself project for those inclined.

If you'd like to design your own wind-up, American Science and Surplus will sell you the wind-up part for it.
posted by adventitious at 3:19 PM on October 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For a stationary camera on a tripod, you don't need sides for your set, just a tabletop stage and a backdrop. (Backdrop with silhouette lit from behind is a thing from old TV variety shows).

Jim Henson liked to use thin rigid wires to move limbs on muppets. If you don't have sides on the set, you can use rigid wires to manipulate moving figures on stage from the sides. I like this method because it has a lot of flexibility. The wires should be not-shiny if possible.

Background figures can use light springs, and also things dangling from above on threads to add more jiggling ambient liveliness.

Coloured light makes things more interesting. Christmas light strings above the stage mixed with main lights can add some atmosphere for a simple basic set-up. Colour adjustable LED lights is the wave of the future.

Traditional puppet shows often used a proscenium (sometimes with curtains) to frame the action, you don't really need that, but it's a thing to consider if you like that concept. It makes things a bit more fussy.

(There's an infinite cornucopia of vegetables, random household objects, and re-purposed toys to guest-star in many shows. I should git off my butt and git back to work on it too since you remind me.)

(also for the very low-tech, there's the PJ Katie-style use hands to move things around method, which is very down-to-earth.)
posted by ovvl at 4:13 PM on October 16, 2020

Best answer: Construct a Pepper's Ghost Illusion to make some objects translucent... maybe a wisp of a cotton ball rotating to look like rising smoke/steam.
posted by tinker at 8:51 PM on October 16, 2020

Response by poster: I am LOVING all of you right now! These are such fantastic ideas/thoughts/suggestions! And with the added bonus of having finished my Christmas shopping for everyone I know under the age of 12. :)

My basement is about to get a lot more fun. Thank you all for the inspiration!
posted by nosila at 7:21 AM on October 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

I hope you make a Projects post with what you come up with.
posted by mpark at 4:01 PM on October 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: mpark, if (nay, when!) I actually finish a video, I'll be sure to post it there!
posted by nosila at 5:51 PM on October 18, 2020

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